All stats current up to 9/15/22
If there is anything to be taken away from the 2022 MLB season, it is obvious that Joe Jimenez has emerged as a legit back-of-the-bullpen option. Coming onto the scene at 22 in 2017, Jimenez was viewed as a bullpen savior to a franchise that had been burned far too many times by the likes of Joe Nathan, Al Alburquerque, and Jose Valverde.
Joe’s first two big league seasons were peripherally good, but his results lagged behind. His xERA was consistently much lower than his actual ERA. The wheels fell off during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and Jimenez was quite simply irredeemable. After only 22 innings of a disastrous campaign, Detroit kept Jimenez around for 2021, but they were rewarded with the same inconsistencies.
Joe’s control dissipated immensely in 2021, with a walk rate more than 7 percentage points higher than any other career number. He was optioned to Triple-A Toledo for the first time since 2017. He eventually returned to Detroit and finished with a solid 3.89 xERA, despite a 5.96 ERA, and he also spent portions of the season injured. To many fans, it didn’t make sense to pay the $1.79 million it took to bypass arbitration.
In 2022, Jimenez has seemed to put it all together, along with a few other members of the bullpen. For a guy who never finished a season with an ERA under 4.31, his 2.94 mark this season is sparkling. His fastball spin rate has stayed consistently in the top ten percent of the league, but his stuff has just gotten nastier.
Jimenez has finally been able to combine his perpetually positive four-seamer with a good slider and, most importantly, a third-pitch changeup that isn’t awful. After four seasons of throwing a negative Run-Value changeup, Jimenez has not only thrown it less, but it’s been a net neutral pitch, which has given way to a career-high usage mix of his fastball and slider.
This is the best Jimenez’s fastball has looked since his All-Star season in 2018. It’s registered a career-high in K% and PutAway%, as well. When it gets hit, though, batters do clobber it, but Jimenez has been able to reclaim his control and blow by hitters with a pitch that’s average velocity has increased by one MPH this season.
Year after year, Jimenez has made tweaks to his slider. Every season the horizontal movement lessens, making it more of an 85 MPH slurve. This pitch has also been the best of Jimenez’s career in terms of missing bats while also limiting hard contact. The changeup is also used more now to keep batters honest, rather than as a weight-carrying part of his arsenal.
The last factor that has made Jimenez special this year is his extension towards the plate on pitches. He has registered a career-high in that metric in 2022, with his previous career high dating back to his All-Star season in 2018. This change in delivery, nearly thirty percentiles higher than his mark last season, has allowed Jimenez’s pitches to reach the plate faster and allow less time for batters to react.
It seems that the small changes in Joe Jimenez’s approach in 2022 have combined to finally unlock the true, real-life potential that his Statcast numbers often predicted he could reach. In his sixth big league season, Jimenez is truly ready to headline a retooled Detroit bullpen that has come around.
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